“Marriage is hard.”
I had heard that statement all my life.
But I suppose because I was young and my head was full of qualities that I just knew I’d find in a spouse, I never thought to ask more about what makes marriage hard. Subconsciously, I probably even believed that the type of guy I would catch would never make it that hard.
In reality, marriage can be incredibly difficult no matter how great the guy or how prepared you think you are. It takes a lot to meld two lives — two different personalities, from two different backgrounds, equipped with entirely different ways of dealing with conflict and seeing the world.
If I could go back and give my 21-year-old self a heart-to-heart, here is what I’d tell her makes marriage challenging:
1. Overcoming expectations based on family experience
The relationships you observed and experienced your whole life in your own family are likely very different from what your soon-to-be spouse experienced. My husband, Ryan, and I laugh now at how similar we thought our families were before we married. We both come from tight-knit families of six. Our dads are quiet leaders in the home; our moms work in education. Our families share the same faith and values. But beneath those things, there are a million things that make our families significantly different. From gender roles to parenting philosophies to attitudes toward money and so much more, those roots shaped us as individuals.
2. Settling into roles
Getting comfortable and settling into roles is great with the roles that work for you as a couple. He is the night owl who hangs out with the wide-eyed newborn while she catches a few hours of sleep before taking over. He makes lunches while she gets the kids dressed. She walks the line of pessimism while he (the die-hard optimist) helps her see the silver lining.
However, settling into roles can be disappointing if certain roles leave one or both partners wanting. She needs to vent; he thinks problems feel smaller if you don’t dwell on them. She hears every sound the kids make at night; he could sleep through an earthquake. (In fact, my husband has!) Once roles become comfortable and familiar, it can take superhuman effort to change.
3. Forming habits
Even the smallest of your spouse’s habits can get under your skin and fester if you let it. Marriage is as much about choosing what habits you can live with as it is choosing which habits to ask your spouse to work on. (And even more than that, it’s about confronting your own habits.)
4. Keeping marriage private versus needing a sounding board
I was always advised to keep marriage matters private. I heard things like, “Be careful! If you complain about your spouse to your mom, she’ll think less of him” and “If you want to build your husband up, you should never say anything bad about him.” There is truth in these statements: Of course I want to build my husband up. And of course I don’t want my mom to dislike him! But I found myself very isolated as a newlywed trying to navigate marriage struggles that I felt unprepared for.
I need to talk my problems through, and for the first time in my life, I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone. A few years into my marriage, I began cautiously opening up to a friend. I did my best to paint my husband fairly but honestly and was liberal in admitting my own flaws. Her understanding and encouragement gave me a tremendous boost, and things began looking up. I felt so much lighter knowing I was not alone in my marital struggles. My husband and I were normal — totally imperfect but normal! I just hadn’t known it before because most people around me were quiet.
Sometimes a trusted friend can be a fantastic sounding board. Other times, a neutral, professional sounding board is even better. Several sessions of counseling after our second baby was born did us a world of good.
5. Accepting that love changes with time
I love my husband differently — more completely — than the day we were married because we have been through some highs and lows together. We have gone to sleep unhappy and trudged through days feeling unconnected. But we forgive and reconnect and love each other more. It’s not the shiny-new-penny type of love and euphoria that we shared on our wedding day, and I admit that I sometimes miss that. But it’s a richer love because it is based on more shared experience than it was day we said “I do.”
As Terryl Givens said, “Love is found in the face of difference, not sameness.”
While sameness sounds downright dreamy when his way of parenting differs from mine or when his way of showing me love is falling right outside my line of sight — it’s in navigating our differences that we learn what real love is.
This article by Erica Layne originally appeared on her blog, Let Why Lead. It has been shared here with the author's permission. Erica Layne writes Let Why Lead, a place for purposeful wives and moms. For regular reminders to step back and see the big picture, connect with her on Facebook, Pinterest or at letwhylead.com.